Screen Printing 101 | A Walk-through of the Basics | Adam Tanaka | Skillshare

Screen Printing 101 | A Walk-through of the Basics

Adam Tanaka, Everyone can learn to screen print

Screen Printing 101 | A Walk-through of the Basics

Adam Tanaka, Everyone can learn to screen print

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7 Lessons (15m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Tools of the Trade

    • 3. Artwork and Inks

    • 4. Preparing the Screen

    • 5. Setting up the Press

    • 6. Printing the Shirt

    • 7. Reclaiming the Screen and Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Step behind the press with me in a working print shop and learn the entire screen printing process from film prep to clean up. 

With the help of 15 years of experience in screen printing and print shop ownership, I've outlined the full printing process as well as some tips and tricks for creating awesome printed apparel. We'll take an in depth look at formatting artwork, exposing a screen, setting up the press and pushing the squeegee to reveal the perfect print. Everyone can learn to screen print and create their own awesome designs to wear and share. 

From design to finished print, you'll learn how to:

  • Prepare artwork
  • Burn the design into a screen
  • Set up on a printing press
  • Push the squeegee to get a perfect print

Plus, I will share some common mistakes/ best practices to help guide you through some of the trickier steps in screen printing. 

While this class is intended to show beginners the basics of the screen printing process; all are invited to join this class. Whether you’re looking to expand your skillset for your own designs, open your own online shop, or make t-shirts for your brand, you’ll leave with the insider information you need to choose the right tools, and create awesome printed apparel.


This video is not sponsored by any of the brands and equipment shown.

This class includes some use of Adobe Software, including Photoshop CC

Looking for more from Adam Tanaka? Check out his website

Meet Your Teacher

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Adam Tanaka

Everyone can learn to screen print


I blame 90’s rock bands for getting me into the merch industry…I remember being in my late teens, seeing a shirt I wanted from one of my favorite bands’ geocities or angelfire websites, stuffing cash into an envelope, and mailing it off. In about 3 to 6 weeks, I would get a shirt and some stickers in the mail and never knew how the print made its way onto the fabric like that. 

Fast forward a few years to getting a job scrubbing the floors and screens with Xylene in the print shop of a merch company. There was so much I learned from starting at the lowest position making $6.25 an hour, to the production floor, webstore/fulfillment, and even the client relations side of that business. 

Between filing ... See full profile

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1. Introduction: I love teaching people how to screen print. It's messy, it's frustrating, and it's still rewarding to see a finished shirt. When I'm out in public and I see a shirt that my shop has printed, I get so stoked. I'm Adam Tanaka, I'm a print shop owner and Emerge consultant. I've created this class to show you the entire screen printing process. We'll start with prepping the artwork, and then we're going to take a look inside the dark room, and I'm going to show you the process of setting up screens. Then we're going to actually step behind the press and I'm going to show you how to get the perfect print. This class is perfect for anyone wanting an in-depth introduction to the screen printing process and I'm super excited to show you. 2. Tools of the Trade: The first thing we're going to do is highlight some tools of the trade. First up, we have a screen. You can't screen print without a screen. Screens come in a variety of sizes and mesh counts. This is important depending on the type of artwork that you're going to be using, 155, 160 is a good middle of the road, most commonly used mesh count. 230s and 305s are excellent for high detail images, such as photorealism. There are two types of screen frames, wood and aluminum. Wood is great if you're on a budget, but they do warp faster. Aluminum frames are a bit more pricey, but they last longer. This is a scoop coater. This is used to coat the screen evenly with emulsion, and I'm going to show you exactly how to do this in one of the following videos. This is a film positive or transparency. Your design is printed onto the film, and the film is used to transfer the design onto the screen. This is a squeegee, they come in a variety of sizes and the blades are measured in durometers. The lower the durometer, such as the 60, the softer the blade, the higher the durometer like an 80 is harder. A 70 is a good middle of the road that can be used on almost all types of prints, and finally, we have a screen printing press. Now, I started out screen printing on the floor, holding the screen down with my feet. I was my own press. Don't do this to yourself. Behind me is an automatic screen printing press. It automates part of the process, allowing the printer to produce higher volumes at a much faster rate. In this class, we'll be printing on a manual press, which means, I'll be manually printing the shirt. There are a number of different tools and set-ups available for screen printing apparel depending on your scale and budget. Everybody starts somewhere. Below is a complete list of everything that you'll need to get started. 3. Artwork and Inks: For this class, we're going to be working with one of my favorite one-color designs. Since this is a one color design, we don't have to do any separations. What I mean by separations is when you have a multiple color design and those colors need to be separated out into their own channels. Each color gets its own film, and in turn, gets its own screen. To get a clean and crisp print, there are few things that you should ensure about your artwork. Your artwork should be a 300 dpi high resolution file, or preferably a vector file. To start, we're going to be prepping the artwork in Photoshop. First, we begin by opening up the artwork and renaming the layer to original for reference. Now, go ahead and duplicate this layer. This will be our working layer. Change the image mode to gray-scale, this is preferred when printing films. For reference, we'd like to change the layer name to the color we'll be using. In this situation, we'll be using white. This isn't necessary but we'd like to add a color overlay to the layer to ensure a rich black print on films since we're not using an all-black print system. Now, you can delete the original layer. We won't be needing it further since this is a one-color job. Group as a print layer, this is especially helpful when printing multiple colors. Next, we'll add registration marks. A quick note on registration marks and why they're important: your registration marks act as a guide to keep your design centered and straight when loading your screens onto the press. Now we'll print the finished design onto a film. For multiple colored jobs, we use a Pantone mixing system to ensure color matching. For this print, all we need to do is grab our ink. A quick note on ink: the different types of inks are plastisol and water-based ink, and a type of water-based ink is also called discharge ink. We're not going to worry about that one right now. Today, we are printing with plastisol. Now that our art is prep and our ink is ready to go, we're going to head into the darkroom and I'll see you in the next lesson. 4. Preparing the Screen: Now that our film has been printed, it's time for us to step into the darkroom and burn the image to our screen. It's important to make sure that your screen is clean, especially if you've used it to print before. This process begins by coating our screen with emulsion. Emulsion is a thick liquid that is sensitive to UV light. To start, pour the emulsion into the scoop coater. Use consistent pressure to coat the screen, and then be sure to tilt the screen to catch the excess emulsion back into your scoop coater. There are a few ways that you can coat a screen. Here, I'm doing two in one, meaning two coats on the front and one coat on the print side. Once the screen is coated, place it on an even surface or a drying rack and give it about 24 hours of dry time. You may not need the full 24 hours, but this will ensure that your screen is ready to go. The emulsion screen is light sensitive and will need to be placed in a dark room away from light. You can use safe lights that won't affect the emulsion. These are usually yellow or red bulbs. Now that the screen is ready, it's time to position our artwork and expose the screen. To start, we'll use a T-square to line up the artwork on the screen. It's important to place the film face down on the screen. This is a common beginner's mistake. Now that our artwork is lined up on the screen and it is facing the correct way, we'll tape it down and get ready to place it into the exposure unit. The exposure unit we're using has a vacuum feature which secures a rubber blanket to the screen during the exposing process. It also has a timer which I have set for 30 seconds. Exposure times can vary depending on your setup and the type of emulsion that you use. Now we can head over to the wash booth and spray away the unexposed emulsion, which will reveal our design. It's time to place it on our drying rack and wait for it to dry. Now that it's dry, I'll walk you through how to set up the screen on the press and get ready to print. I'll see you in the next video. 5. Setting up the Press: Now that our screen is prepped and we have our inks, it's time to get started on the press. The first thing we're going to do is we're going to draw our center-line on the palette. I have a 16-inch palette. Half of 16 is eight, and so I'm going to draw my center markings long ways on the palette. Using this guy, we're going to draw a straight line down the center of the palette. Now that we have our center line, we're going to set up our screen on the press. We'll use our line on the palette and our registration marks on the screen as a guide for making sure our artwork is centered on the press. It usually takes a few adjustments. Now that the screen is setup and locked down, we're going to take the edges and double-check their pinholes. Now there's no motion on the edges of the screen, so we're going to tape up the sides with masking tape to prevent ink from getting onto the shirt from the outer edges. We'll also cover our registration marks with masking tape on the bottom of the screen to hide them from our final print. The reason you want to do this on the bottom of the screen is because the squeegee may pull up the tape on the top and ruin your print. Now that the screen is setup on the press, in the next video, we'll finally start printing. 6. Printing the Shirt: Let's go ahead and ink up our screen and we'll get started with the test print. Be sure to put enough ink on your screen so you're not constantly having to re-up. Now, I know you're excited and ready to print this shirt but what I like to do is I like to do a test print, whether that'd be on a pylon which is a cotton sheet or a test shirt to make sure that everything is registered and ready to go. I'm going to use some spray adhesive to make sure that the shirt doesn't pull away from the palate. When it comes to screen printing, some printers like to pull the ink through the mesh and some printers like to push the ink through. I personally like to push the ink, and I am going to show you exactly how to do that. First, I'm going to coat this screen evenly with ink, or as we say flood the screen, and then I'm going to hold the squeegee at a 45-degree angle and apply constant pressure as I push the ink across the screen. I'll then do another pass at the same angle and pressure to ensure coverage of the full design. I'll now run the test print through the dryer to cure. A quick note on curing your shirt. There are a few ways to cure a shirt besides putting it on a baking sheet and putting it in the oven. There is a heat gun, a flash dryer, and a conveyor dryer. Conveyor dryer would be your best option. But depending on your budget, a heat gun will work just fine. Always make sure that wherever you are doing your printing that it's properly ventilated, whether you have windows open or the exhaust system hooked up to your dryer. You don't want to be breathing in fumes. Aside from the print, loading a shirt is the next most important step. What I'm going to do is I'm going to grab the shirt by the side seams if your shirt has a side seam. I'm going to scrunch the shirt and just throw it on the palate. To ensure that the shirt is loaded straight and not crooked and off-center, I'm going to grab the shoulder seams to where they meet the sleeves, lift up slightly on the shirt and slowly work its way back towards me, which is color-off, which means the color is slightly hanging over the pallet. I check my sides, Side seams. Everything is even, straight. I'm going to smooth the shirt out against the adhesive and we're ready to go. So we're going to go ahead and do a test print and then we're going to move to the actual shirt. The best way to remove the shirt from the pallet without risking any snap back would be to grab the bottom of the shirt, pull it away from you and slide the shirt right off the pallet. Now, it's time to cure so let's head to the dryer. Now, it's finally time to print on that actual shirt. Remember, 45-degree angle and consistent pressure across the print. Oh, yeah. That looks great. It's ready to be washed and worn. Now that we've finished printing, I'm going to show you how to reclaim a screen. 7. Reclaiming the Screen and Final Thoughts: How to reclaim a screen is extremely important because it's going to allow you to re-use that screen over and over again for future designs. Before you reclaim the screen, you'll want to scrape off the excess ink to save for printing in the future. Next, remove all of the masking tape from the screen and spray it down with an ink remover. It may take a combination of scrubbing and spraying until all of the ink is removed. To remove the emulsion from the screen, spray both sides with an emulsion remover, and use a scrub pad or sponge to break down the emulsion. Now, you should be able to use a sprayer or pressure washer to rinse away the remaining emulsion and leave your screen to dry so it can be ready for your next print. You did it. You completed the entire screen print class from start to finish. We've prepped custom artwork, exposed our screen, and absolutely killed in on the press. By now, you should have everything that you need to start creating your own prints. Check out the links below for a couple steps in other class. Thank you so much for choosing our class, and I can't wait to see what you've created in the uploads.